Image from Beacon Center of Tennessee's End The Hall Tax video.
For decades, Tennessee has claimed to be an income tax-free state, even passing a constitutional amendment banning taxes on income. And for decades, this has been a lie – the state has continually taxed income derived from savings, stocks, and bonds since 1929 through its grandfathered-in "Hall Tax." But last year Beacon Center of Tennessee fought back with its comprehensive public awareness and digital advertising campaign called “Tackle the Hall Tax” – exposing the true nature of the tax, which raids seniors' nest eggs and drives business and investment away from Tennessee.
"We were proud to play a role in making Tennessee freer and more prosperous by becoming entirely income tax-free,” said Justin Owen, president and CEO of Beacon Center. “Our ability to secure a repeal of the Hall Income Tax proves that even organizations with small budgets and staffs can still make a big impact. Our friends across the globe face enormous challenges defending freedom and free enterprise. If they are bold, they can achieve great things for their fellow citizens, even without massive budgets or expansive staffs."
The centerpiece of “Tackle the Hall Tax” was a 30-second sports-themed video explaining why the Hall Income Tax was bad for Tennesseans. In just six weeks, the online video was viewed more than 4.4 million times. In that same period the project generated more than 75,000 emails to legislators in support of repealing the tax. Polling before and after the project showed that support for repealing the tax rose from 42 percent to 58 percent in that short time span. This relentless advocacy culminated in a full repeal of the Hall Tax, a tremendous feat as this is only the second time in history that a state has eliminated an income tax. As a result, Tennessee taxpayers are projected to save over $300 million per year and Tennessee can finally be rightfully counted among the few beacons for freedom as an income tax-free state in America.
Tackling the Hall Income Tax
The state of Tennessee outlawed income taxes in 2014, but grandfathered in the Hall Tax, which taxed income gained from savings, stocks, and bonds. This punished retirees of every income bracket and pushed investors out of the state. Recognizing that this tax was hamstringing Tennessee’s true potential as a state of opportunity, Beacon Center developed a three-pronged approach of “Educate, Engage, and Reform” in order to yield the highest potential for repealing the tax.
Despite trouble in securing donors because many thought repealing the Hall Tax was not politically possible, Beacon Center implemented one of the most sophisticated digital advertising projects in the liberty movement to date, winning it multiple public relations and advertising awards and leading to its being offered as a case study for other state-based think tanks.
"Beacon Center scored a major victory with the repeal of the Hall Tax in the wake of its compelling research and communication campaign,” said Atlas Network CEO Brad Lips. “This is the model of effective public engagement that should be studied by others who want to rein in tax-and-spend governments."
In addition to its sophisticated use of data, segmentation, and geo-targeting, Beacon Center used an iconic sports rivalry to help drive home the key points of the campaign.
The University of Tennessee and the University of Florida have an impassioned, decades-long football rivalry. The two states also share a rivalry when it comes to fiscal policy and economic freedom. The Beacon Center played off both by emulating the style of a football broadcast for its campaign video, the centerpiece of the public awareness campaign that explained the detrimental effects of keeping the Hall Tax on the books. Over 4.4 million people saw the video and more than 30,000 followed up by visiting EndtheHallTax.com – the campaign’s microsite – to learn more, with thousands registering to receive regular updates about the Hall Tax.
Beacon Center’s campaign video played off the University of Tennessee and University of Florida’s football rivalry.
Beacon Center’s six-week campaign earned media appearances in the Wall Street Journal, The Daily Caller, Forbes, The Tennessean, Nashville Scene, and the Knoxville News Sentinel even though it was largely focused on digital advertising through social media. Public support for repealing the Hall Tax soared from 42 to 58 percent and nearly 80,000 emails to legislators supporting the repeal were sent.
Tennessee, Truly Free
The successful repeal of the Hall Tax on the last day of the 2016 legislative session put in motion the gradual decreasing of the tax by one percent per year until finally hitting zero in 2021. Projections estimate savings of over $300 million annually for Tennessee taxpayers once the tax has been completely removed. States with no state income taxes have consistently outperformed their peers in fiscal rankings and have historically enjoyed higher levels of economic freedom, growth, and success. The Tax Foundation predicts that the successful repeal of the Hall Tax will spur a subsequent rise in the state’s tax policy rankings.
Tennessee is now only the second state in history to repeal an income tax – the first being Alaska – and this historical feat can be directly traced to Beacon Center’s campaign, which relied on smart information and an adaptable strategy – becoming the benchmark model that Beacon Center hopes to replicate elsewhere, like in its efforts to expand school choice in Tennessee.
About the Templeton Freedom Award and the additional 2017 finalists:
Awarded since 2004, the Templeton Freedom Award is named for the late investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton. The award annually honors his legacy by identifying and recognizing the most exceptional and innovative contributions to the understanding of free enterprise, and the public policies that encourage prosperity, innovation, and human fulfillment via free competition. The award is generously supported by Templeton Religion Trust and will be presented during Atlas Network’s Freedom Dinner on Nov. 8 in New York City at the historic Capitale. The winning organization will receive a $100,000 prize, and five additional finalists will receive $25,000 prizes. In addition to Beacon Center, the other finalists for the 2017 Templeton Freedom Award are:
- Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO), based in Norcross, Ga., for its Prisoner Reentry Initiative
- IMANI Center for Policy and Education, based in Accra, Ghana, for its IMANIFesto
- Instituto de Estudos Empresariais (IEE), based in Porto Alegre, Brazil, for its Fórum da Liberdade
- Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad (IMCO), based in Mexico City, Mexico, for its anticorruption reform initiative for Mexico, 3for3
- Macdonald-Laurier Institute for Public Policy (MLI), based in Ottawa, Canada, for its Aboriginal Canada and the Natural Resource Economy project
For media inquiries about the 2017 Templeton Freedom Award, contact Daniel Anthony at Daniel.Anthony@AtlasNetwork.org or (202) 449-8441.